My “Half-way” World.
Creole is easier than English for a young child, and even today many things are easier and more efficiently said in Creole. Nonetheless, English was a must and came gradually through my inside–the–family world. My mom still laughs about one of the confusions it caused. One day, when I was two and a half years old, she laid me down at noon and tried to read me to sleep. The story ended, “serve God, and he will fill your heart with peace.” I mumbled, “I would hate God if he did that.” Feeling concerned for my spiritual understanding, she explained that I should want God in my heart so I would have peace. I insisted that I would hate God for that. When questioned why I explained, “When one puce bites me, it hurts I would not want a heart full!” I was confused because the word “peace” in English sounds to me like the word “puce” which means flea in Creole.
At the age of 4 and a half, I met a halfway world. It was life somewhere between these two worlds I had known. The world of “my people,” the local Haitians, and the world of my parents and their friends. Halfway between these two worlds were the children I came to know at Mrs. Scott’s kindergarten. This was 9 miles down the mountain from the mission in the residential suburb of Petitionville. The kids that went to the kindergarten were children of doctors, lawyers, merchants, and the educated. Most of these children were light mulattoes (a person who has either a white father and a black mother or vice versa) so far removed from the local Haitians I had known that the entire school year passed by before I could even believe they were Haitians. They were beautiful soft-faced children with individually tailored clothes and hairstyles, impeccable French, and polished manners. I knew from the beginning that I was a foreigner among them. At the school, I learned French, showed interest in drawing, and delighted in being a comedian. I loved Mrs. Scott, even though I never learned the tunes to her many French songs. I found Captain Scott, her husband, much more interesting. He kept fighting chickens for a hobby, and he would explain the merits of his prized chickens to me (rather than polishing a little boy with stilted French manners). At 4 PM I would hitch-hike home on what we called “tap taps” (pickup trucks converted into a form of public transportation) back to my two worlds. By the time I arrived home Christophe had the earthworms dug up and ready to go. Inspired by a United Nations’ project, my dad had made a little fish pond as a demonstration to the mountain people of how to raise fish as a source of protein for the children. Among the happiest of my childhood memories are the late afternoon or early Saturday mornings spent fishing with Christophe or my grandmother.
The country people have a philosophy, “If I have something today, I will share it, because tomorrow when I do not have anything, you will share with me.” Thus a dried biscuit, or a bit of raw sugar cane, or a bright crystal peppermint is always broken and shared. These tidbits were more special to me than wrapped foreign candy. Such native foods were forbidden because the germs of tropical disease hid in them; however, out of sight, I ate the food without qualms, because the Haitians did. Therefore, built up my immunity like theirs I suppose, for I was healthy and suffered none of the ills that beset many other foreign children. I believed what my parents said about “foreigners” getting sick from such food. However, I did not consider myself a foreigner. I knew I was not altogether Haitian, but I did not have any idea where the differences began.
Thus I grew up in a dual world– dual citizenship. A citizen of the English-speaking, clean, bacon and eggs breakfast world of my parents and the big, wonderful, not-to-clean Haitian world around me. The two seemed unmixed. When I was in the Haitian world, I spoke Creole and behaved like my playmates. I shared their humor and laughed over “Malice and Bouki” stories, which no foreigner thought was funny. Here I continued my education from 8 A. M. until 4 P.M each day, October through July. When I was five years old, my grandmother taught me to read English. At seven, I always waited in anticipation for the next Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, which I have read continually since. I have been an avid reader and gone through available English and French libraries. At age eleven I completed the national examination for primary education. I was the only American child among the sixty-seven thousand who took the exam. That fall I entered a little new school in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, which was directed by Swiss educators. Here I felt happy and stayed busy. The halfway world continued as I entered regular school at College Tete-de-L’Eau. This was a private school operated by the French wife of the Minister of Finance.